Victims Are Starting to Expose the Catholic Church’s ‘Biggest Untold Secret’ — Sexually Abusive Nuns

Mary Dispenza and Cait Finnegan, who were sexually abused by nuns.
Credit: AP; Cait Finnegan

It’s the line from scripture that stayed with Cait Finnegan for nearly half a century as she tried to suppress the painful memories of the sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her Catholic clergy educator.

“God is Love,” Sister Mary Juanita Barto told Finnegan as she repeatedly raped her in classrooms at Mater Christi High School in Queens in the late 1960s.

The abuse began when Finnegan was 15 and continued throughout her high school years — on school buses to out-of-town sporting events, at religious retreats in upstate New York, at Finnegan’s childhood home in Woodside and at a Long Island convent.

“She was obsessed with me 24 hours a day,” Finnegan, now 67, told The Post. “The woman owned me.”

After graduating high school in 1969, Finnegan struggled to deal with the abuse and tell her story, but her efforts fell on deaf ears.

“Nobody wanted to hear about the Vestal Virgins back then,” she said.

But after Pope Francis recently made the bombshell admission that some nuns were abused by priests and even used as sex slaves, dozens of Catholics have come forward to report a tangential, and just as evil, phenomenon — sexual abuse by nuns.

“This is the next big thing for the church — the biggest untold secret,” Mary Dispenza, a director at Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a St. Louis-based advocacy group.

“In the past, victims were very much ashamed and afraid to tell their stories, but they are starting to come forward and we are expecting that this may be as big as the priest abuse scandal.”

The group has heard from 35 people in the last several days who claim they were physically and sexually abused by nuns, said Dispenza, a former nun who claims she was abused as a young girl by both a priest and a nun. Finnegan told The Post she approached SNAP for support a few years earlier.

Dispenza, 78, has fought for more than two decades for justice for victims of clergy abuse and plans to take her fight to the Vatican on Monday. She and her group are demanding the Pope help victims of nun abuse and fire anyone who has covered up crimes by Catholic clergy.

“We want them gone immediately,” she said.

She also wants the Vatican to require Catholic leaders to contact police right away if they are confronted with abuse, rather than alerting local bishops or other church hierarchy first.

And in states where the statute of limitations has been amended to allow victims of sexual abuse to file complaints, SNAP is urging them — some now in their 60s and 70s — to file claims against their alleged abusers.

“Finally, they will have a chance at justice,” she said.

Last week, New York opened up a window for old cases with the passage of the Child Victims Act. The measure, which had languished in Albany for more than a decade, allows a one-year window for alleged victims to file lawsuits against their attackers, no matter when the abuse occurred.

Before the new law, New York had one of the most restrictive statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. Victims now have until age 55 in order to file civil suits and can press for criminal charges until age 28. The old statute capped lawsuits at age 23.

Dispenza, who spent 15 years in a habit before becoming an activist against the Catholic church, is bracing for an onslaught of cases against nuns, who typically run schools and orphanages, and spend exponentially more time with children than priests.

“They are with kids at school every day from nine to three,” she said.

They also far outnumber priests. There are 55,944 nuns in the US and 41,406 priests, according to statistics compiled by SNAP.

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SOURCE: New York Post, Isabel Vincent